ON March 1 2016 hundreds of people thronged a five-star hotel in Harare to meet former vice-president Joice Mujuru as she announced the launch of the Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) party at a press conference.
By Wongai Zhangazha
Although it was raining, her jubilant supporters sang and danced outside the hotel, attracting passersby who joined in the merrymaking, bringing a section of the central business district to a standstill.
People from all walks of life gathered outside the hotel, joining Mujuru’s supporters in singing the popular song “Ichokwadi Mwari aripo (God is truly present)”, giving an impression that they believed that “a new Moses” had emerged to unshackle them from Zanu PF bondage.
This was the first time that Mujuru was making a public appearance since her dramatic ouster from Zanu PF and government in December 2014.
Riding on the wave of the sympathy she gained after being subjected to vitriolic attacks by First Lady Grace Mugabe ahead of the acrimonious Zanu PF congress and the compassion emanating from the suspicious death of her husband and national hero, retired General Solomon Mujuru, in a mysterious fire in the early hours of August 15 2011, Mujuru appeared to be destined for greater heights.
“I stand for peace. I am not here to fight anyone,” said Mujuru addressing the crowd, amid cheers.
Her words were well received as her supporters maintained she was mature and level-headed which was a sharp contrast to Grace, her tormentor-in-chief.
She was seen as a genuine challenger to President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist since Independence in 1980.
Her supporters said she was a hardened freedom fighter, whose contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe could not be questioned. Her marriage to Mujuru was also supposed to put her in good stead, as he was recognised as a distinguished fighter and commander who had also played a pivotal role in the elevation of Mugabe to the Zanu PF leadership.
She launched ZimPF at a time Zanu PF leaders were engaged in a vicious succession fight pitting Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the G40 group which had coalesced around Grace, following her ouster.
As the interim leader she unveiled her national management committee that was going to prepare for the National People’s Elective Convention, which is still to take place.
The committee included former state security minister Didymus Mutasa, former Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, as well as former ministers Sylvester Nguni and Dzikamai Mavhaire among others.
The likes of Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, Retired Colonel Claudius Makova, Henry Muradzikwa and David Butau, who was in charge of the research and strategy committee, were also present.
In the likes of Mutasa, Mavhaire and Gumbo were some political heavyweights who had played a big part in the Mujuru faction which prior to her expulsion was dominating government and Zanu PF organs, including cabinet, the politburo and central committee.
The launch of her party was followed by the unveiling of a policy document titled Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development (Build) where she laid her vision for a prosperous Zimbabwe.
Build was premised on that Zimbabwe belonged to all people regardless of colour, creed, disability, gender, race or religious backgrounds.
Mujuru said her government would put in place pro-business to attract investment, create, promote and support security of tenure and bankable leases. She said she would review the Indigenisation Act and promote a transparent land policy among other progressive policies.
Her policy was well received by ordinary Zimbabweans and political analysts.
She appeared to be ably carrying the project started by the late general, as a fully-fledged opposition leader.
With her on the new journey were tried and tested veterans, the likes of Mutasa, Gumbo, Munacho Mutezo, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, Butau and former Mashonaland East chairperson Ray Kaukonde, who were close to her husband.
But last week, she shocked the nation when she announced the expulsions of the likes of Gumbo, Mutasa, Mutezo and Bhasikiti, among others, whom she accused of plotting a coup d’état and being Zanu PF infiltrators bent on destabilising the party.
Some analysts say Mujuru is now weak as she is left with nonentities after getting rid of some people who have been part of the general’s project since the 1990s.
Questions have been asked as to whether she will survive without the people who stood by her and fought her battles in Zanu PF, for instance, Bhasikiti who at one time even cried on her behalf during a heated politburo meeting in November 2013.
As reported by this newspaper at the time, Bhasikiti was responding to the then Information minister Jonathan Moyo’s presentation in the politburo from a media point of view, saying that he was having a torrid time managing the succession issue. Moyo had insinuated that the likes of Mujuru were giving him a hard time.
After Moyo made his remarks, insiders said an emotionally-charged Bhasikiti immediately jumped into the fray and confronted Moyo, making disparaging comments about “professors” in general and him in particular.
Bhasikiti, according to sources, left no one in doubt that he was defending his principal, Mujuru, and attacking her rivals in the camp led by Mnangagwa. Towards the end of his address, emotions overcame him and tears ran down his cheeks.
Analysts say the death of her husband was her first stern test of strength, character and endurance. Solomon Mujuru was seen as the strategist behind the scenes and his death exposed her, resulting in her ouster from Zanu PF three years later.
The poor performance of ZimPF in the recent Bikita West by-election and the expulsion of some heavyweights has left her weaker and this may affect her bargaining power in coalition talks, analysts say.
However, other analysts say Mujuru may emerge stronger by expelling the likes of Mutasa and Gumbo as she has gotten rid of dead wood.
But there is consensus that she is at a crossroads and has to make wise choices going forward.
Political analyst Stanley Tinarwo said although the ructions could weaken ZimPF, Mujuru still stood a chance to be a game-changer.
“Zimbabwe’s opposition is invariably at its weakest and the split within Mujuru’s party does not help matters. It has weakened her in the short-term and raised the political stakes for her to prove she can up her game without those she broke away from Zanu PF with,” Tinarwo said.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said Mujuru would survive the political environment despite firing her close lieutenants, if she stuck to what she promised her followers or supporters.
“I think she will survive if she follows the following steps: if she keeps to her promise that she is a transitional figure and moves away from the old guard. She will survive if she acts as a bridge between a new generation of leaders away from the Mugabe era,” Mandaza said.
“She will survive if she sets up national structures. Already we saw when she made the announcements at the press conference. She had the support of nine provincial structures and the tenth one released a statement supporting her move and all these are a younger generation. She will survive if she becomes more explicit on how her party differs from Zanu PF by having a well-articulated political and economic agenda which gives hope to the younger generation.”
Social commentator Maxwell Saungweme said Mujuru had let go of people who were old and tired politicians, allowing her to renew the party and move on.
“The guys she let go are old and tired politicians who should be politically retired anyway. With them she was unable to really stand up as a bona fide opposition leader given her long service in Zanu PF and her tainted history.
“With or without those old politicians she still doesn’t have much leverage to position herself as a credible leader of an opposition coalition,” said Saungweme.
“It’s really difficult to consider these old and tired politicians as factors that matter in Mujuru’s position and leverage within opposition circles. She will survive. She did not require these tired horses in the first place to survive politically.
“Her lack of sophistication, long history with Zanu PF and tainted past are more important variables to the equation of her political survival than the exit of these old failed politicians.”